NEW YORK (AP) — A decade-old civil case against Jordan-based Arab Bank brought by American victims of suicide bombings could drag out even longer if a U.S. jury is allowed to determine damages in the legal offshoot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a judge warned Friday.
At a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan suggested that appointing a special master to deal with the question of compensation would streamline the litigation. One of the plaintiff lawyers responded by saying his clients had waited 10 years to assert their right to have a jury settle the matter.
"Have you thought about the fact that if you don't agree to a special master, you could be here another 10 years?" Cogan asked.
The judge postponed a ruling but indicated that the damages phase of the civil case would go forward in some form in the coming months. The bank is mounting an appeal of a jury verdict in September that found it liable in a wave of Hamas-sanctioned attacks in the early 2000s that left several Americans dead or wounded. Jordan filed a brief earlier supporting the bank's request for an immediate review of the verdict by an appeals court.
"Jordan's leading financial institution — and the mainstay of its economy — has been saddled with this litigation for a decade, and it now has a liability finding clouding its reputation," the brief said.
Nearly 300 victims of the attacks and their families sued in 2004, accusing the bank of knowingly helping Hamas fund a "death and dismemberment benefit plan" for martyrs from the territories. The case marked the first time a bank had faced a trial under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation.
At trial, the jury heard Hamas experts and other plaintiff witnesses attempt to link extremists to Arab Bank accounts and detail how cash payments were funneled through the bank and into the hands of the families of suicide bombers.
Several Arab Bank executives took the witness stand to deny the allegations. The defense also argued that people identified by the plaintiffs as Hamas operatives who did business with the bank weren't on terrorist watch lists compiled by authorities in the United States and other Western nations.
Before trial, the bank had refused to turn over the account records to the plaintiffs, citing Jordan's privacy regulations — a decision that resulted in a court sanction instructing that the jury be allowed to infer that the withheld records could contain evidence damaging to Arab Bank. Since the verdict, it has filed papers arguing that the sanctions unfairly hamstrung the defense and made the verdict a foregone conclusion.
"The sanctions order — and the use of that order to prevent Arab Bank from defending itself — is a grave affront to Jordan's sovereignty," the Jordan brief argued. "The sanctions failed to respect the bank laws of one of the United States' most critical allies."